BUCKFIELD — Not quite two years after former Buckfield librarian Bonnie Santos was fired, the town and Santos have settled legal issues surrounding her employment discrimination allegations with the Maine Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity commissions, which includes withdrawing the allegations against the town, rescinding Santos’ termination and paying $30,000 in settlement money.
Santos of Minot was employed as the director of the Zadoc Long Free Library when she was fired by then-Town Manager Cindy Dunn on Jan. 21, 2017. Santos was library director from February 2014 until her 2017 firing and previously had served as assistant director from 2010.
“The case was resolved. It’s over and it was handled through insurance and attorneys,” said Buckfield Town Manager Joe Roach, noting he couldn’t say anything further on the matter.
A check was cut to Santos for $12,500 on Oct. 29, 2018, by the town’s insurer, Argonaut Insurance Company, “for her alleged non-wage compensatory damages alleged by Employee,” according to Freedom of Access Act documents requested by the Advertiser Democrat.
“This payment is not for remuneration for services, past or future wages, or punitive damages, and is not a wage continuation plan,” the settlement document reads.
Also on Oct. 29, 2018, another check was made to Santos’ attorney’s law firm, Johnson, Webbert & Young, for $17,500 “for all legal services for Employee relating to this employment-related dispute and claims of unlawful discrimination.”
On Jan. 14, 2019, the town received notice from Argonaut Insurance Company that Buckfield’s $1,000 deductible was due.
All told, the town and its insurance company spent $47,020.44 on the matter. This includes settlement payments, legal and other fees and unemployment benefits.
Like Roach, others involved with the case did not comment in detail.
In an email, Sonia Buck of Linnell, Choate & Webber in Auburn, who represented the town through part of the contested termination case, referred comment to Santos’ lawyer, David Webbert of Johnson, Webbert & Young in Augusta. Previously, Buckfield was represented by John Conway also of the Auburn law firm.
“All I can say is the matter has been resolved,” Webbert said in a phone interview.
The legal issues she raised with the town after her initial termination “have been resolved,” Santos said in an email.
The settlement also prevents the town and Santos from making “any unfavorable statements or communications” about the other and their respective allegations and defenses to such claims.
Shortly after her firing, Santos and Webbert said her termination was unlawful and violated the town’s Personnel Policy and the Maine Human Rights Act, including the right to medical leave, the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, the Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements law and the federal constitutional right to due process. They asserted Santos was fired because she was scheduled to take a medical leave for a necessary heart surgery, according to Advertiser Democrat archives.
At the time, Dunn denied Santos’ medical issues had anything to do with her termination. She said Santos’ termination was based solely on her performance, according to the newspaper’s archives.
The settlement—which was signed by Santos on Oct. 29, 2018, and Roach on Oct. 30, 2018—notes that the settlement and subsequent payments “are not, and are not to be construed as, an admission of any liability or wrongdoing on the part of the Employer or any of the Employer’s agents and or employees.” The 10-page document also withdraws the unlawful termination and discrimination claims Santos and Webbert lodged against the town.
The agreement releases the town, its employees, attorneys and insurance company “from any and all claims, damages, causes of action, suits, liabilities, demands, and expenses (including attorneys’ fees) … which the Employee now has or ever had … including … any of the asserted Claims of discrimination … or any violation of any federal, state or local statues, or common laws, including, but not limited to, the Maine Human Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, … the Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements law, … the Maine Whistleblowers Protection Act, and … the Civil Rights Act of 1964, except that Employee does not release or discharge any claims under the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act.”
Other parts of the settlement included Santos agreeing she won’t reapply for employment with Buckfield and the town rescinding Santos’ termination. Instead, the town has accepted Santos’ resignation as library director, effective Jan. 21, 2017.
“Employer agrees to remove from Employee’s personnel file all documents reflecting or concerning the rescinded termination, and such documents will be kept only at the offices of the Employer’s outside legal counsel,” the settlement reads.
The document also notes Santos hasn’t alleged any “medical injuries caused in any way by Employer that would otherwise be covered under Medicare and that there was no medical treatment related to Employee’s legal claims against Employer Releasees.” The settlement holds the town “harmless for any loss of Medicare benefits or Social Security benefits Employee may sustain as a result of this Agreement.”
The $30,000 in settlement money did not cover all of the expenses incurred from this legal matter. The Advertiser Democrat’s FOAA requests shows Buckfield paid $12,114.34 in legal fees to Linnell, Choate & Webber. The services covered review of legal documents and claims, travel to Buckfield, phone and in person conferences, preparation and attendance of hearings and others.
Initially, the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) denied Santos’ application for unemployment earlier in 2017. As a result of her appeal in May 2017, the DOL ruled that Santos was entitled to unemployment.
The FOAA documents show that the town paid Santos $4,706.10 in unemployment benefits covering the time frame of February through September 2017.
The town also paid a $200 remediation fee to the Maine Human Rights Commission on Aug. 14, 2018.